President Obama, determined to keep his promise to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by month's end, met with his national security team Wednesday to talk about where things stand. But as violence continues to flare-- a bombing has just killed eight Iraqi soldiers north of Baghdad-- and an Iraqi government has yet to be formed, the future of Iraq's self-reliance is murky at best.
The president has tasked his deputies, from those in the Office of Management and Budget to his Secretaries of State and Defense, to participate in the discussion which could cover the gamut of issues security, financial or otherwise.
Compounding the problems in Iraq are reports that members of Al Qaeda are trying to lure some of their former allies back to the fight by offering them more money than they currently receive from the Iraqi leadership. The U.S. and Iraqi allies had successfully brought on board some of their past adversaries and turned them to the fight against insurgents. Now, Al Qaeda wants them back.
The decrepit security situation in Iraq, combined with the planned U.S. combat decrease, has raised fears among Iraqis over how much control their government can maintain over security. Iraq's foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari told the New York Times, "Our country will not be able to defend against foreign aggression for a long time."
After September 1, the U.S. will leave behind a contingent of 50,000 troops and will remain involved in diplomacy and training missions. The departure of the U.S. fighting force by that date appears immovable, regardless of Iraqi post-election disarray. General Ray Odierno, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, told ABC's This Week Sunday, "I would say the numbers and our numbers of withdrawing is not linked to the governmental formation process..." he said, adding, "Our numbers are linked to the capacity that the Iraqis -- of the Iraqi security forces being able to sustain stability. And I think they are moving toward that capacity."Odierno adds that security in Iraq is indeed better than in years' past.
The changing mission in Iraq comes at a financial cost, as well. The State Department is slated to take over training the Iraqi police force after combat troops leave. However, relevant Congressional Committees have been reluctant to fulfill budgetary requests which could help fund that training, saying it's time for the Iraqis to step up and cash in on their oil reserves.
"This month we will end combat operations in Iraq," President Obama said simply Monday in a University of Texas speech. Actually doing so may not be so simple.